Bet you didn’t know this…
Right here in America, every year since 1989, the worthy lentils are hailed and celebrated at The National Lentil Festival in Pullman, WA. Fun fact: The chili bowl at this festival can hold 650 gallons of lentil chili, which is stirred using river paddles (clean ones!)
A while back, I wrote this interesting piece on lentils for Zenfully Delicious, a great website for persons handling food allergies…it’s full of information and fun facts, like the one above, on lentils; worth a read.
Around our home, during the fall and winter seasons, dinner-time often means wholesome bowlfuls of ‘Daal’, an Indian lentil preparation best described as a cross between a stew and a soup; it’s a truly comforting and healthy way to end a long cold day. The term ‘Daal’ is generic for all Indian style lentils, made using various colorful lentils and multifarious cooking styles from all parts of India.
I’d say if anyone has the notion that lentils can be ‘boring’, take a look at what the Indian cuisine has done with them over centuries. As the aromatic steam rises from a boiling hot ‘Daal’ to meet your senses, the cares of the world wash away to help you reach a unique gastronomic meditative state of ‘Daal and self’…Too much? Well, not really, try it.
Meditative dinner aside; one cup and 230 calories of these antioxidant-rich, cholesterol-free and gluten-free nutritional heavyweights provide 90% of your daily value of folic acid, the highest amount provided by any unfortified food; plus 17g of protein, 15g of dietary fiber, and a smorgasbord of essential vitamins and minerals like iron, manganese and phosphorus.
In the past, we’ve shared ‘Daal’ recipes using split yellow lentils; today, let’s graduate to the slightly longer-cooking, shape-retaining whole lentils. I’ve used a whole black-brown ‘Masoor’ lentil varietal, which would give red lentils if split open. Cook this Parsi inspired ‘Daal’ recipe (notice the unique blend of sweet jaggery/sugar and tart cider vinegar) in your slow cooker or pressure cooker, the stove top takes much longer to cook whole grain lentils but is always an option.
Lentils and their availability varies globally, different from one place to another, so I suggest buying the best whole black or dark brown lentils you can find at your grocer (in the US, look in the bulk section for brown-green ones which give green split lentils, if opened.) Then, follow our recipe below to reach ‘lentil nirvana’…it’s as simple as that.
1 cup whole black-brown lentils (I’ve used whole Masoor)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 cup or ½ medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons ginger garlic paste (or 4 cloves garlic, minced & ½ inch ginger, grated)
½ teaspoon ground red chili or Cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
½ teaspoon jaggery or sugar
2 tablespoons cider (red) vinegar
¼ teaspoon garam masala
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
In a saucepan, heat the canola oil, cumin seeds and bay leaf so their flavor infuses the oil. Add onions, ginger garlic paste & cook till the onion has browned.
Mix in the spices (except the garam masala) and seasonings, cook for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly. Add tomatoes, jaggery/sugar and cider vinegar; simmer the ‘onion-tomato mixture’ for 5 minutes till the flavors have blended.
For the Slow Cooker:
Clean and wash the lentils. Add 3½-4 cups of water and the cooked ‘onion-tomato mixture’ shown above to the lentils. Based on the lentil type, cook till the grain is done; whole-grain ‘Masoor’ takes 4-5 hours on a high setting. Before serving, sprinkle garam masala and cilantro over the lentils.
For the Pressure Cooker:
Cook the above ‘onion-tomato mixture’ in the pressure cooker bowl. Next add cleaned, washed lentils and the required water to the mixture. Once the pressure is reached, cook on medium-low for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle garam masala and cilantro over the lentils and serve hot.
For the Stove-top:
Prepare the ‘onion-tomato mixture’ as shown above. Add the lentils and water to it and bring to a boil. Cover and cook the lentils on medium heat till the grain is done (add more water as required.) Serve hot, sprinkled with garam masala and cilantro.
Lentils have a consistency somewhere between a stew and a soup; they are satisfying when served piping hot with a dash of lemon, along with crusty bread for dipping or over aromatic basmati rice. Steaming ‘Daal’ even pairs well with warm Indian bread like a chapatti, roti or naan. Alternatively, lentils make a great side to any entrée and are a staple element of any home cooked Indian meal.